Node.js vs Java: Which Backend Language Does Your Project Need?

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Olga Demidenko
Author, Geomotiv
Published: Jul 20, 2021

While there are various available back-end development tools, Node.js and Java seem to be the most popular options. Java, being in the market since 1996, is an incredibly mature and well-established language compared to Node.js that was released in 2009 only. On the other hand, according to Stack Overflow reports,  developers name Node.js as the most loved tool.  

So how do you choose between these two, and what tool seems to perform better? Scroll down to see our detailed overview of each and their fair comparison.

A Quick Overview of Node.js and Java

Before we get into more detail, let’s quickly review each tool and what they are best known for.

Node.js Overview. The Popularity of Node.js

Node.js is a Javascript runtime environment and is open-source. Its main strength lies in its speed of work (due to its single-threaded nature) and Chrome V8, enabling Node.js to run Javascript both on the client and server sides.

As mentioned above, Node.js was named the most loved development tool by 66.8% of developers, according to the Stack Overflow report of 2020. The same report also states that Node.js is the most used tool, according to 51.4% of developers.

Node.js indeed is very popular these days due to its speed and high level of performance. Node.js is used by Uber, PayPal, Trello, and NASA - and these are just a few examples.

Java Overview. The Popularity of Java

Java is an OOP language that is used for a variety of tasks. And similar to Node.js with V8, Java works with JVM (Java Virtual Machine), which makes Java somewhat a runtime environment.

Even though Java is named outdated by some developers, its popularity is here to stay. The Stack Overflow report states that Java is in fourth place among the most popular programming languages. As well, Java is used in 3.6% of all websites existing today, as per W3Techs. As for the companies trusting Java, the list includes Netflix, Google, Airbnb, Amazon.

Node.js

As said above, Node.js is an open-source execution environment for the Javascript language. It relies on the Chrome V8 engine to translate Javascript into machine code. This makes Node.js platform-independent and allows it to run on any machine needed. 

What makes Node.js so fast is its use of the event-driven I/O model. As a result, Node.js avoids thread blocking and does not make CPU cycles wait for too long by resuming an operation as soon as the response is received. Chrome V8 also contributes to fast code execution, which is a significant advantage.

Another great thing about Node.js is the vast amount of available third-party libraries. They can be installed via the Node Package Manager known as npm. Npm allows developers to install and manage packages easily as well as share the code with npm users. And if compared to Java’s Maven, npm is easier to work with, though Maven contains much more libraries due to Java’s age.

The learning curve for Node.js is relatively low (Java has a much higher entry threshold). However, Node.js developers still need to understand the asynchronous and event-driven nature of Javascript. However, due to the popularity of Node.js, it has a massive community, meaning a developer can always find answers and get support.

Node.js Pros:

  • Easy to find full-stack Node.js developers: these developers can simultaneously work on both backend and frontend of an app;
  • Perfect for simple/minimalistic business logic: shows high speed when applied to simple tasks;
  • I/O system: contributes to faster execution;
  • Not opinionated: developers are free to code in their manner;
  • Easy to learn: the entry threshold is not very high;
  • Big community: developers can always find support.

Node.js Cons:

  • Error-prone: due to tooling immaturity and other factors;
  • Not suitable for complex, extensive computing: performs slow and there is a risk of errors;
  • Possible issues with code maintenance: due to its asynchronous nature.

Use Cases

Due to its nature, Node.js is best used for:

  • Microservice projects: with the use of express/nest/hapi;
  • MMORPG servers: though they shouldn’t be too complex and heavy;
  • Chats;
  • REST API: with minimal business logic;
  • MVP: especially when a company can hire 1-2 people for backend and frontend.

It is not advised to work on heavy, enterprise-level projects with Node.js as this tool is not very suitable for big apps with complex business logic.

Java

Java is a distributed, multithreaded OOP language. Since it uses Java Virtual Machine to run on any platform, Java can also be called a runtime environment, similar to Node.js. In addition, Java is known for its “Write once, run everywhere” principle, which means you can share its code across different platforms that support Java.

Java is also known for its IDEs that are much better than the ones Node.js is offering. Some of the most popular Java IDEs are Eclipse, NetBeans, and IntelliJ, and all of them display a high level of integration with decompilers, debuggers, and servers. As well, Java has a considerable amount of third-party libraries that are managed via Maven. Of course, due to Java’s age, the number of these libraries is much higher than the number of Node.js libraries.

As for its scalability, Java can scale both vertically and horizontally. With vertical scaling, it scales from the weakest to the most robust machine, and with horizontal scaling, it goes from a single device to several of them.

Such scalability is possible due to the multithreading that we mentioned earlier. And compared to Java, for a long time, Node.js had horizontal scaling only.

While Java is considered highly readable and easy to maintain, its learning curve is steeper than Node.js. This is so because Java is quite complex, and with time, it gained many new features and improvements that a developer should know about. In addition, Java has too many design patterns to be followed: developers have to go through massive manuals to grip them.

Java Pros:

  • Highly efficient: great for complex, enterprise-grade projects;
  • More minor error-prone: Java has more robust and error-free performance;
  • Great interoperability: adds to Java’s flexibility;
  • Easy deployment and maintenance.

Java Cons:

  • Massive memory consumption: also can result in slower performance;
  • Code verbosity.

Use Cases

The most common use cases for Java are:

  • Enterprise development: Java efficiently deals with complex business logic;
  • Big Data and AI: due to scalability and tools available;
  • Microservices: by using Spring Boot and hipster;
  • Web applications: Java has a high level of security and performance.

A Case from Geomotiv: Streaming OTT Service

When the client approached our company and requested a streaming OTT service development, we had a choice between Java and Node.js. After careful estimation of requirements, the client and the team chose Node.js to work with, and here are a few reasons why.

First, the client needed to implement HLS video streaming. If done in Java, it would take too much time while Node.js significantly simplified and speeded up the process. As well, Node.js added the needed scalability. Second, if the client preferred Java over Node.js, it would take 2x or 3x time to write an app on non-blocking network connections, plus Java would also demand more expertise from developers. 

It is also important to note that the client was a startup and, like any other startup, he needed to release the product quickly and quickly add new features under the customers’ needs. Node.js has a rich variety of ready solutions (libraries) and hence is perfect for such projects.

As a result, the decision in favor of Node.js was made, and the client remained content with the delivered results.

We have access to a great number of Java and Node.js experts. Share your idea with us and we’ll help you to create a perfect team to build your project.

Comparing Node.js and Java - a Quick Recap

By now, it should be pretty straightforward for you what’s best for your project: Node.js or Java. First, however, let’s do one more final recap to clarify any remaining questions.

Node.js:

  • Great for light, simple projects or projects with simple business logic;
  • Big community - relatively easy to find experienced developers;
  • A Node.js developer can act as a full-stack developer, which contributes to a faster development process;
  • A high level of performance and development speed (beneficial for MVP development);
  • Medium level of entry.

Java:

  • Excellent for complex, enterprise-level projects;
  • Big community and extensive documentation;
  • Easy to find experienced developers;
  • A high level of security and scalability;
  • High entry-level.

The choice of a tool will depend solely on your projects and your future goals. First, evaluate what kind of business logic and functionality you plan on implementing and what kind of resources you might need. After that, you can decide whether it will be Java or Node.js.

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